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The Power Of The Pivot: How CurlMix Plans To Reach $10 Million In Sales This Year

BOSS UP

Kim Lewis, CEO and co-founder of natural hair company CurlMix, describes herself as "relentless."

CurlMix, which she and her co-founder husband Tim launched in September 2015, is growing fast, but the company has had to reinvent itself along the way.


In 2017, the couple decided to switch from a "do-it-yourself" subscription model to focus solely on ready-made product. Through a series of "learnings" that could have devastated any other founder, Kim was determined to keep going and pivot when necessary. (Before CurlMix, Kim founded a social media network for natural hair. The company "failed" but the insights and connections Kim made while building it, lived on.)

Having passed $1 million in sales in 2018, the brand's 2019 goal is $10 million and Kim's pretty confident it will happen.

"Entrepreneurship is one big game of chess and Monopoly. It's about having fun in the process. When you play games [and you don't win], it's not about, 'I want to stop playing games forever,'" she told xoNecole. "Losing is a part of winning. I don't mind it because at some point, I'm going to win."

Here's how Kim plans to reach this audacious goal and the lessons she's learned scaling CurlMix from a small DIY startup to a growing and profitable company.

1. Figure out what people really want

Courtesy of Kim Lewis

Sometimes in order to become profitable as a business, you have to learn the power of the pivot. "The best entrepreneurs and athletes have a short memory. If it's not working, do something different. A lot of times fear holds people back and keeps them doing the same thing over and over for longer than they should be doing it."

After accepting the company's declining sales in 2017, Kim and Tim realized they'd have to do something different in order to stay in business. An advisor whom they met through being a portfolio company of Backstage Capital - a venture capital firm founded by Arlan Hamilton - asked the money-making question that would change their business forever: "What's your best-selling box?" It was their flaxseed gel box. "Make that."

Kim and Tim didn't believe it was possible. They thought flaxseed would be difficult to scale and that manufacturers wouldn't make it. Their advisor responded with a firm, "Figure it out."

Kim, who was seven months pregnant at the time, spent all of September 2017 making fifty different batches of flaxseed gel, perfecting a recipe that was stable, and more importantly, scalable.

Pivoting the business model actually made sense.

Margins for subscription boxes can be low, while standalone ready-made product margins are significantly higher. Also, while people loved the idea of being provided raw ingredients to make their own products, most people didn't have the time. Kim admits some of CurlMix's best customers were stacking up their unused monthly boxes at home. "I failed enough to know that I wasn't going to make something that people didn't actually want. We did pre-orders for the flaxseed gel on our website. We launched in October 2017 and sold hundreds in a few hours. We tried again the next day. They bought hundreds more."

2. Make the pivot

Kim and Tim knew that they were on to something so they committed themselves to embracing a pivot, though doubt was present. By February 2018, CurlMix made $8,000 in sales. By March, CurlMix had a $30,000 month. A few months later, revenue jumped to $60,000 a month. The company's highest grossing 2018 month reached $240,000 in sales.

"We realized we needed to scrap the whole business and just do this. This is what people want."

Kim and Tim decided to discontinue the DIY product and threw out six months worth of already scheduled content. "I'm glad that [we made the pivot] because I would have wasted money on things that hadn't found product market fit," she explained. "When you start throwing gasoline on a fire and have no product market fit, you're wasting a lot of money."

3. Target, target, target

Courtesy of Kim Lewis

Social media ads became part of CurlMix's recipe for success. By working with a Facebook ads manager, Kim was able to capitalize on wash and go search trends and target potential customers appropriately.

"We targeted people searching for wash and go [styles]. That's where our product performed...People were searching for flaxseed gel but not getting real solutions.The ones that were out there just added flaxseed oil (synthetic gel) to product. People were making it at home but didn't have a ready-made solution. My challenge was going to be figuring out scaling and manufacturing of the flaxseed gel."

By investing in large scale manufacturing of their own flaxseed gel, CurlMix was able to ramp up to making 1500 units of gel a day. This became their unique marketing offer opening up their ability to quench the market demand for a flaxseed gel product that worked.

4. Understand your levers

"I feel like CurlMix is a million-dollar machine. I can turn certain levers and make more money. Before I didn't have that concept."

As the head of sales and marketing, Kim's formula for increasing revenue includes: increasing the average order value (through bundled offering), increasing customers (via increased product specificity and SKU variance), and increasing purchase frequency. She claims, "If you increase all a little, you can triple your revenue in a year."

A $25,000 investment by Backstage Capital in February 2018 helped the company invest in key marketing assets such as new labels, content, and product photos, which ultimately helped fuel company growth.

This mix seems to be working. According to Kim, CurlMix has gotten to the point where they'll be making $40,000 monthly from Amazon alone.

5. Invest in what’s personally important

Courtesy of Kim Lewis

Zuri, Kim and Tim's one-year-old son, is the light of their lives.

"Before, I thought being a mom was going to ruin my chances of being successful as an entrepreneur. I was terrified. However, my husband and I knew that we wanted to have a family. We knew that when we were 50, we wanted to be on vacation with our kids. It's funny but I said, 'When does that happen, when do I actually have the kid? When do I have the time to raise the kid and vacation with them in 20 years?' That's why we decided to become parents."

"I thought maybe I'm not just cut out for entrepreneurship. I credit a lot of our success to my son to providing me with strength and focus."

And Tim? He's Kim's most valuable player on her ever-moving chessboard.

"[Tim] quit and came to work full-time [and manage Operations] for CurlMix in March 2018. He used to make $250,000 as an IT contractor. He really believes in CurlMix and gets so much fulfillment out of it. He told me, 'We can do it.'"

"I picked my husband as a partner because he's brilliant, not because I love him. It matters because it means he can give me solid advice - period. Whether we're together or not, his advice is going to be excellent. That's important because when investors meet us and say, 'Oh, your spouse is your co-founder', my response is, 'Because he's brilliant, not because I love him.'"

6. Keep learning

The road to $10 million is teaching Kim alot about what it takes to be a long-term player in the business. She's had to invest in an human resources consultant to help with the hiring CurlMix needs in order to sustain growth. She's also learning to vet opportunities with a more discerning eye. Kim believes that if you want to succeed in the online world of beauty commerce, getting out of the "ivory towers" is crucial.

"People are doing things that they are comfortable with. They feel like they've gotten bigger and they [don't] talk to customers. I'm in a private Facebook group with our customers. I go live every Wednesday and they watch me do my hair in my shower. They get to know me and I get to know them on a first name basis. A lot of us rush into retail because we want to get that big order from Target or Walmart. That's not the way to build a long-term business in this industry."

Kim cautions other small businesses to learn more about venture capital, too. "We're told that it's bad to sell. It's important to know your options as a company and business person. Understand investments and the other side of the industry that Black folks don't usually have access to." She recommends reading Angel: How To Invest in Technology Startups by Jason Calcanis and Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer & Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld.

She's also learned to be a better negotiator and explore risk management, something many small business owners struggle with. "Whoever speaks first provides the anchor and has more power. It made me more comfortable with saying what I want first versus waiting to hear what someone will offer me... As a small business, we don't think anyone will come and steal our information. We don't think about having cameras in our offices or small things that exist at big companies. 5% of revenue at every company is gone because of fraud."

Yet, it's about more than just money, admits Kim. "It's not that we made a million dollars. What feels amazing is walking into an office and seeing that you're able to employ ten people. You're able to provide health insurance [and w-2s] for people that look like you. [CurlMix] is a place where [our employees] enjoy working. Those things are so much more rewarding. It's about the people who I work for every day."

There are few more power moves that Kim plans to put into action this year. In early February, the brand introduced its first shampoo and conditioner to market. Additionally, CurlMix's episode on Shark Tank aired on March 3, 2019.

"I've failed quite a bit in entrepreneurship and could have given up in any of those moments. I'm willing to bet on me even if no one else is. I'm willing to sacrifice. I'm going to be successful. It's just a matter of time."

For more on Kim Lewis and CurlMix, visit @kimandtimlewis and @curlmix on Instagram.

Images courtesy of Kim Lewis

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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